Spectrum Tactics to The Eighth Day: Mechanics

You don’t have to look far to see just how much a video game can change during development. Every year we see any number of vertical slices during E3 that look nothing like the final games we buy. My previous blog posts delved into all my past projects, but now I want to focus on the one project that became The Eighth Day and just how it happened.

Spectrum Tactics was the working title for the compilation of story elements and mechanics I had after ending Pony Tactics. I immediately went to work outlining a rough story, envisioning a number of alien races. I came up instantly with two humanoid ones: a wolf like race and a lizard like race.

The wolf race would be the main playable race in the game with the main characters being a part of this race. I wanted these guys to look more wolfish and realistic, and I used ARMA Tactics as an example of the style. Coming off a My Little Pony game it was a little difficult to change gears mentally to a different art style and so a lot of our early concept art came out more cartoony than what we wanted.

Gameplay screenshot from ARMA Tactics, all rights reserved
Early wolf race concept art

As you can see, we didn’t quite get there with the first round of concept art. With the concept art coming out the way it was, I actually started changing my own mind about how the rest of the game was going to be developed. I would keep the story the way it was, however the art style would be more cartoony. It’s not impossible for this to work so I didn’t see it as too big of an issue.

Unfortunately, after working on a number of characters and environmental pieces, our concept artist left the project. This put a complete stop to all concept art being produced.

Without an artist I instead focused all my attention on the mechanics. Mechanically, Spectrum Tactics would be similar to other tactics style games in the genre. You see some cutscenes before you get dropped into a battle map. The battle maps may have different objectives but most of the time you have to eliminate all enemies before the map ends. Pretty standard.

Where the game would differ is how the story heavy narrative would dictate ability progression. We did away with levels and experience, which previously had been handled in one of two ways: either each individual player unit levels up based on the experience they acquire through defeating enemies, or the experience would be shared to all units who survived to the end. Personally I hated the first example, which can be seen in games like Fire Emblem and cause some units to progress far ahead of others, forcing you to rotate your units to keep everyone at the same level. I also didn’t like the second example because it becomes somewhat arbitrary if you need to keep all your units alive by the end anyways. Seeing a little experience bar fill up makes people’s brains happy, but it’s unnecessary and would pull you out of the story, so we removed it.

Instead of units gaining experience then leveling up then gaining new abilities, the events of the game would dictate when new abilities developed on a per character basis. The new abilities would come regularly either after cutscenes or during battle maps. This isn’t like Metroid: Other M where your abilities are simply locked until certain story points, but like any game where your party levels up together and gains new abilities after a while. Even those games are built with those abilities in mind for where and when they will be given, even if it seems like they aren’t. Great games gate off the most powerful abilities till later stages of the game anyways regardless of how much you farm before you get there. Or, at least a lot of JRPG’s do.

Another mechanic we focused on was fog of war, or actually the absence of fog of war. We decided to not use fog of war for the battle maps and instead show the entire map, leaning away from XCOM and towards Final Fantasy Tactics. Fog of war slowed XCOM’s gameplay to a crawl and sometimes forced you to give up good positioning, and often times also health, to smoke the enemies out. I wanted a much more fast paced gameplay style compared to this.

These are just a few of the mechanics we’ve been working on. We’ve been constantly tweaking the list for years, and last year we settled on a five page doc (that needs to be updated now since we changed more things).

Of course, your mechanics are nothing without some kind of story to back them up. Our story is also an essential part of our mechanics so you can’t talk about one in greater detail without the other. Next week I’ll be going into more detail about how a story about a space wolf cop changed into The Eighth Day!